The death penalty was prohibited in the United States between 1967 and 1976 by a series of court rulings. But these rulings have since been reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark case of Gary Gilmore, a convicted murderer who plead to be executed rather than serve a life term in prison. Today, state-sanctioned executions are increasingly common. The purpose of this research is to examine the history and current status of the death penalty in the United States.
Ever since the Gilmore case, the number of people sentenced to death as well as those actually executed have risen exponentially every year. In the few years following Gilmore's execution, only a handful of people were executed by the states. By 1987, 61 people were executed (Stack, 1987:532). And in 1988, there were 106 executions carried out in the nation (Malcolm, 1989:A9). The number of executions is expected to continue increasing at such a dramatic rate because of greater public acceptance of the death penalty and further court relaxations in the death penalty appeal process. By the early 1990s the number of people executed probably will average one a day.
Few political issues are as widely supported among the American public as the death penalty. Survey after survey demonstrates strong public feelings in favor of executing those convicted of cruel and murderous acts. Regardless of region, Americans favor at least a selective application of the death penalty generally within the range of 70 percent of those surveyed. In accordance with popular opinion, 38 states have reinstituted the death penalty for certain crimes since 1976.
The death penalty was not always popular among Americans. It was only a generation or two ago when Clarence Darrow articulated a widely held disgust with capital punishment: "But why not do a good job of it..... Why not boil them in oil, as they used to do? Why not burn them at the stake? . . . Why not break every...